After the death of my mate, an anxious, depressed, alcohol-dependent artist, two sides of my personality clashed on what to do with my life. My primal side focused on my self-preservation. My more evolved side holds my moral compass and considers more than just my own welfare. When there is a threat to my body, a pending attack, my primal side decides if I fight back or fly away. My evolved side wants to negotiate with the attacker and find some acceptable middle ground.
My deceased mate, Vince, was a prolific visual artist. The basement of the home we shared was full of cartoons, sketches and paintings from his embattled brain. I wanted to place the home on the market but what was I to do with Vince’s art museum? I believed his creations were his alter ego and too intriguing to discard. But Vince had little success selling his work so how could I achieve what he could not? His work is outside of the mainstream with limited appeal. The sadness produced images may have been therapeutic to him but uncomfortable for most of his audience. Perhaps viewing his work within the context of his life could assist others who feel pain as he did. My selfish “Me” side and my self-less, save the world “Us” side argued. My selfish side pondered, “How does stalling the home sale to deal with piles of sketches and paintings help or harm me?” Whereas the selfless side pondered, “How can I use my experience with Vince to illuminate his darkness and his abilities so people can learn about the creative mind and mood disorders?” The “Me” versus “Us” debate follows.
“Now I no longer have major responsibilities to anyone but myself. However, I am part of humankind and feel I have an obligation to make life easier for those struggling with mental health issues and those who care for them. Vince expressed his mental states in the art he left behind. Should I escape from him now and squander the chance to use his story to assist others?”
“Why are you thinking about this? Hasn’t this man consumed enough of your life? You can take your life back now and enjoy yourself. Go sit on a beach in Mexico with margaritas and a Latin lover. Most people would call 1-800-get-junk and be done with it. But not you. You want to be curator of the life misspent collection.”
“I admit he was challenging but he was a valuable human being even if he didn’t think so. He spoke through his art and I can’t see the fruits of his life ending up as recycled paper or painted-over canvases.”
“And what are you going to do with all his stuff?
“I thought I might write a book about him and his creations and include photos of his work to share them.”
“Write a book! You realize how much time and energy it will take to accomplish that. Besides, who wants to read about the mentally ill. It’s such a downer.”
“I disagree with your characterization of Vince as “mentally ill”. He had a mental condition with its benefits and its burdens. Only when the burdens become greater than the benefits can we consider illness. There was a price to pay for his creativity”
“I see your point. The condition is only a problem when it interferes with the rest of humanity or interferes with life itself.”
“Now you see what I mean.”
“Yes, I see. He was mentally ill. He was a self-destructive train wreck who derailed. It’s time to let him go.”
“I can let Vince go but not the kind of people he represents. The millions of people who struggle with mood disorders and other mental maladies. I can help Vince speak for them.”
“You do know that you’re a chronic rescuer. So now you want to be Mother Teresa for the mentally ill?”
“I would not put myself in the same category with her but I can be some degree of crusader.”
“So, you want to help your lost love tell his story through his off-beat creations on the chance that someone might benefit from it. How noble. Just who will buy this volume? There are gobs of people who write emotional outpourings and scatter their thoughts on a plethora of media for the world to absorb. Why should you add one more voice?”
“Because Vince’s story is not a success story. His story is from the grave beautifully illustrated for all to see.”
“I will grant you that Vince’s work does illustrate his mental state and dismal view of life. His stuff is so morbid: dark moods, weapons, death, skeletons…”
“True, some are grotesque death fantasies but they’re exquisitely rendered. And he does have creations in a lighter mood.”
“Yea. Dancing skeletons.”
“There is a niche market for his genres. The book might generate some interest in buyers of the surreal or art therapists for demonstration purposes. I could craft descriptions of his pieces in the book so they are intriguing to a wider audience.”
“This should be good. Can’t wait to see how you stimulate mass appeal for a flying toilet. Maybe someone will want it for their bathroom wall.”
“I admit that Vince’s output was unconventional but so was Pollock’s, Dali’s, Picasso’s and the list goes on. With the right public interface and marketing, they became accepted.”
“A good salesman. Someone who can sell beachfront lots in Death Valley. Maybe she can market mental illness while she’s at it.”
“Precisely. Studies suggest a strong link between people with mood disorders and their ability to be imaginative, innovative and original. But, when mired at the extreme moods, they can’t utilize their abilities well. The mental health establishment needs to find a mechanism to effectively harness that creative ability. Look at all the professions that require people who can think outside the box. It’s not just artists. It’s inventors, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, diplomats. . .”
“Enough! In other words, you want to repackage certain mental conditions in a positive rather than a negative light. That could be a tough sell. Changing attitudes is never easy. And what’s the cost of this mission to you? Remember that life is what happens when one’s occupied trying to save the world.”
“Maybe so but it will be a better world for humankind if attitudes can change. Those currently dealing with uncontrolled conditions and obscured talents have much in common with revered but troubled personages of the past and present. Stated differently, it’s in everyone’s self-interest to help those with mental disorders take command of their conditions and utilize their talents.”
“Hum. I do enjoy reading Poe, and Van Gogh’s Starry Night is awesome. I’m sure there are many more like them that need to be revealed and nurtured. All right. You win. I suppose it is in my own self-interest to assist you in your campaign.”
So now I have my selfless side and selfish side in agreement. I believe that the argument I had with myself mirrors the argument that our culture experiences when deciding how to approach those outside the cultural “normal” for mental health. Society is mostly sympathetic to those in mental pain. But each member of society must decide as an individual to make a decision. Can I create an environment by which those who feel mental distress are not fearful of seeking help? Will I help to stomp out stigma associated with mental conditions or ignore their pain, criticize them, isolate them from me and let my primal side win? Change happens one person at a time. So, I should end this rant and start working on that book.
P.S. The book is finished. HOUSE OF NEUROSES – HOUSE OF NORMALCY: My Life with Vincent Duane Phillips and His Curious Art is now available online for under $6 at https://store.bookbaby.com/book/House-of-Neuroses–House-of-Normalcy ; Amazon, i Book, Nook, Kobo, Hoopla, Google play and other on-line venders.
The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) has a campaign to end the stigma. You can go to NAMI.org, Stigma Free Me and take the pledge.